Selecting, the av melachah of borer, is forbidden on Shabbat,1 and involves sorting (by hand or with a utensil) through a mixture to separate wanted and unwanted items. In most scenarios, it is largely irrelevant whether one separates the mixture by removing the wanted items from the unwanted or vice versa.


Using a tool to sort things, especially one designed for that purpose, is almost always forbidden on Shabbat,2 with the exception of using cutlery to select food items from a plate if one intends to eat the food immediately. In this case, the selection being done with the fork or spoon is considered part of the eating process and not an act of its own.

The Eglai Tal3 allows the use of a peeler but only for fruits and vegetables whose peels are normally eaten. Since the peel and the fruit are often eaten together, the peel is considered a part of the fruit. As such, removing the peel is equivalent to sorting the same item, which is permitted, as will be explained later. Most other halachic authorities,4 however, do not agree with this approach and forbid the use of a peeler on Shabbat.

The Mixture

What is considered a “mixture” in terms of borer?

  • The desired and undesired items are fully mixed together, such as a bowl of peanuts and raisins. If they are just bunched together, but not really mixed—like a pile of fruit lying on the table—selecting is not a problem.5
  • The two items are attached to each other, even if they are clearly distinguishable. For example, a fruit attached to its peel or a grape attached to its stem.
  • The two items are fused together, like a leaf that falls into a bowl of soup.6

Borer is only an issue when all the components are truly mixed together. If one item is clearly discernible and stands out on its own, even though it may be together with something else, it may be selected. For example, one may remove eggs from the water they were boiled in or spoon out chunks of potatoes from a soup since in both cases the desired food is clearly discernible from the liquid it is mixed with and is therefore not actually considered “mixed” in the first place.7

In each of the scenarios listed above, some items in the mixture are desired, while others are not. The melachah of borer is only transgressed if the components of the mixture are not the same type. For example, removing bones from fish is borer, since the bones are undesired and are not fish. Selecting from a mixture of only one type, however, is permitted.8 For example, one may select larger pieces of fish from smaller ones, if all the pieces are the same type of fish. If the pieces are from different types of fish, selecting one from the rest is forbidden, because even though all the pieces are fish, they are not all the same type.9

When Borer Is Permitted

Borer is only permitted with food when the act of selecting is part of the eating process and not an act of its own. To fit this criteria, three conditions must be met.

  1. One must specifically select what he wants from the mixture instead of just removing what he doesn’t want. Since he is choosing what he wants to eat, it is considered part of the eating process.
  2. One must select the foods by hand. A fork or spoon may also be used because they are utensils used for eating.
  3. The selection may only be done immediately prior to the meal.10 While some halachic authorities consider even up to an hour before the meal to be acceptable,11 the Shulchan Aruch Harav only permits a much smaller time frame.12

Another method of borer which is allowed involves removing the undesired item together with some of the desired items.13 For example, if a piece of food fell into one’s bowl of soup, he or she should scoop out the piece with some of the liquid. Although the Alter Rebbe mentioned this option in his Shulchan Aruch,14 he later wrote that one should not use this method, since, in his opinion, the permissibility of it is not certain.15

One may also break up a mixture by spreading it out on a table and then choosing what he or she wants.16

Borer in the Mishkan

To produce the flour used for sacrifices and the showbread, wheat was winnowed to separate the kernels from their chaff, leaving a pile of kernels mixed with dirt and debris. Borer was the sorting process by which the kernels were selected.17 Others explain that the same process had to be done to the herbs and spices needed to make dyes for the mishkan.18


  • Picking out a desired item from a mixture by hand with the intention of using it later on
  • Sorting using a utensil that isn’t designed to sort things19

Common Activities to Avoid:

  • Picking out rotten vegetables from a bag
  • Separating spoons from a stack of forks
  • Removing bones from fish
  • Peeling fruit and vegetables long before serving a meal
  • Sorting game pieces or small toys that have been mixed together
  • Organizing books that have been placed haphazardly onto a shelf